Fatigue life assessment procedures for components exposed to high temperature pressurised water environments are typically based on NUREG/CR-6909 or broadly similar codes (e.g. proposed ASME code case N-792). The effects of a high temperature water environment on the fatigue life are accounted for by simply adjusting the fatigue life in ambient temperature air by an environmental factor (FEN). This adjustment assumes that the environment affects both initiation (nucleation) and propagation equally, which is potentially over-conservative. Blunt notch compact tension (CT) specimens (along with direct current potential drop (DCPD) crack detection) have been proposed as a means of determining the “true” fatigue initiation life, enabling the relative impact of the environment on initiation and growth to be characterised and the level of conservatism in the FEN approach assessed.

The current work uses a combination of finite element analysis and fatigue testing in both air and water to assess the feasibility of blunt notch CT testing to detect initiation and to quantify the environmental impact. This work indicates significant difficulties with the blunt notch CT test methodology both in terms of quantifying the applicable strain and in terms of detection of the very early stages of initiation which preclude the quantitative application of the technique to study true initiation. Qualitatively, the results suggest that there is still a significant impact of the high temperature water environment on the earliest detectable stages of crack growth in austenitic stainless steels; however the earliest defects detectible by DCPD techniques still involve a significant contribution from short crack growth. Nevertheless, the technique provides a valuable insight into initiation and residual life of components subjected to through wall strain gradients.

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